330 B. POLEVOI
Meresyev recovered his strength in an instant. He
jumped up and, drawing himself up heavily with his arms,
threw his awkward feet over the side of the cockpit,
nearly kicking someone on the wing, and leapt to the
Petrov's face seemed to have merged with the pillow
he was lying on. Two large tears lay in the deep, dark
hollows of his eyes.
U01d man, you're alive! You ... you old devil!" cried
Alexei dropping down on his knees beside the stretcher.
He took the helpless head of his comrade in his hands and
looked into his suffering and yet joyfully sparkling eyes.
'Thank you, Alyosha, you saved me. You are ... Alyo-
sha, you are-----"
"Damn you all! Take the wounded man away! Stand-
ing there gaping like a lot of fools!" came the thundering
voice of the colonel.
The colonel was standing near by, short, virile, sway-
ing on his sturdy legs, his close-fitting, shining boots
showing from under the trousers of his blue overalls.
"Senior Lieutenant Meresyev, report on your flight.
Any planes shot down?" he demanded in an official tone.
"Yes, Comrade Colonel. Two Tokke-Wolfs'."
"Under what circumstances?"
"One in a vertical attack. He was hanging on Petrov's
tail. The other in a head-on attack, about three kilometres
north of the area of the general engagement."
"I know. The groundsman has only just reported___
"Serving..," Alexei began, wishing to give the regula-
tion response, but the colonel, who was usually so strict
in matters of form, interrupted him and said in an infor-
"Very good! Tomorrow, you will take command of....
The Commander of Squadron Three has not returned to
They walked to the command post together. As flying
was finished for the day, the entire crowd followed them.
They were already nearing the green mound of the
command post when the officer on duty came running
towards them. He pulled up sharply in front of the colo-